The remains of the Shelby Iron Works are located in Shelby, Alabama. At its peak, the Iron Works was the largest charcoal-fired blast furnace in the south.
Horace Ware and John McClannahan, began construction on the brick and stone blast furnace in 1841. After completion in 1846, the furnace produced a maximum of five tons of iron per day. Ware sent the Wrought iron produced in the furnace to Sheffield, England where it was made into high quality cutlery. In 1858 he incorporated the company as the Shelby County Iron Manufacturing Corporation. The operation expanded in 1860 with a state of the art rolling mill, and produced the first finished bar iron produced in the state.
During the Civil War Shelby produced the steel plates used to armor the Confederate gunboats the C. S. S. Tennessee and C. S. S. Merrimack. In 1862 the company changed its name to the Shelby Iron Company after Ware sold all but a small portion of the company to other investors. By 1863 Shelby had grown to producing thirty tons of pig iron a day. Almost all of the iron was earmarked for delivery to the Confederate Naval Works in Selma, Alabama.
In 1865 a detachment of General Emory Upton’s Division of Wilson’s Raiders destroyed the ironworks, leaving the company with a demolished furnace and over $250,000 in unpaid bills from the Confederate States. With an influx of money from a group of New England investors in 1869, the iron works was reopened and began producing iron for building railroad cars. By 1875 it had a larger furnace and was producing 75-tons a day. Then in 1889 it added another twin furnace.
After the start of WWI in 1914, there was a growing market for wood byproducts since some were used to make cordite, the first smokeless substitute for black powder, and acetone, a popular solvent. Around 1916, Shelby began discussing an interest in establishing a chemical plant to extract these products.
The company’s idea was to obtain these substances, among others, and use the remaining charcoal to fuel the company iron furnaces. In 1918 Shelby constructed their chemical plant under the name of Shelby Chemical Company. However, it since the war soon concluded, its time was short lived and the plant closed the following year.
The iron works continued producing pig iron until 1923 when it put out its fires for the last time. It was, for most of its history, the largest industrial operation in Shelby County and the largest and longest-lived iron manufacturer to rely solely on charcoal for fuel.
The Dennemora Hotel was a thirty room hotel built in 1863 by the Shelby Iron Company. In 1898 the original hotel burned. Shelby Iron rebuilt the present two-story wood frame structure in 1900 at a cost of $10,000. Some of the bricks used to support this building were, handmade by slaves, and were some of the same used in the foundation that supported the original building.
The new Dennemora was managed in its heyday by Ma Beau and contains fifteen bedrooms, an office, a dining room wing, a kitchen, pantry, and two bathrooms. At some point the hotel’s name became the Shelby Hotel. It claimed to be the first hotel in the state to have electricity and internal plumbing, and until it’s closing in the 1970’s, it was considered the oldest operating hotel in Alabama.
While anyone could stay at the hotel, it was mostly used for company business and company employees. It cost $25.00 a month for a room and three meals a day. There was a “Honeymoon Room” and the “Company Room” upstairs. In addition to two governors and their wives, visitors to the hotel have been Al Capone, Teddy Roosevelt, and, Alfred Landon who ran for president against Franklin D. Roosevelt. There was a new addition added the hotel, but it was torn down after the Shelby Iron Company closed its doors.
In 1977 John Draper III wrote an interesting article after he interview Bernard Rummel who ran the hotel with his wife.
In addition to the hotel are two other structures. The above building was used as the Post Office. While the house below belonged Mr. William Crossett.
While I was leaving I had to stop and photograph this old store. Its no longer has customers coming through its door, but I bet if it could, it would have plenty stories to tell.